WILLIAMS KUNSTLER: DISTURBING THE UNIVERSE (2009)

Posted in MOVIES TO LOOK FORWARD TO: Coming Soon or Now Playing In A Theater Near You... on November 22nd, 2009 by Jim Delaney


Friday the 13th, 2009 at the Landmark Kendall Sq. Cinema, Cambridge MA.

Directed, written, produced and edited by Emily Kunstler & Sarah Kunstler.

At first glance, nothing seems exceptional about this documentary. Two young women make a movie about their famous father, civil rights attorney William Kunstler. They load it with talking-head interviews and archival news footage, then personalize with Emily’s voice over to string the threads together. At first glance, that is until the Kunstler sisters do something amazing ten minutes in: they lay bare their own disillusionment with their father. Of course they want to love William Kunstler, because he is their father and because he is a respected and storied defense lawyer, but Sarah was born in 1975 and Emily in ’77. By the time they were at an age to understand what William did for a living, he was defending an alleged drug dealer who had shot six police officers in the Bronx, the “wilding gang” in the Central Park Jogger rape case, and the Teflon Don: John Gotti.

Structuring their story this way was a brave gamble that pays off brilliantly. Brave because it risks alienating a large segment of the audience early by focusing first on Kunstler’s less celebrated, tabloid-fodder cases. Brilliant because it sets up parallel stories of Emily and Sarah’s discovery of their father, and of William’s own – for lack of a better word – redemption.

I was aware of William Kunstler’s defense of the Chicago 8 and members of the American Indian Movement. I fully expected to be confronted with these cases within the first few minutes in a misty “look how great our father is/was” montage. Instead Emily tells us that at times she felt punished as a child, unable to leave her family’s Manhattan home. We see protesters on their doorstep screaming that their father “has to go!” This shows faith in the sisters audience that we will hear them out to their conclusion. As we follow Emily and Sarah seeking William’s voice from those who had known the earlier man in his most embattled years, we come to understand that William’s career was built on giving a voice to people that many in society did not want to hear from.

The major criticism I have encountered of DISTURBING THE UNIVERSE is that too many of the interviews are of friends and admirers of William Kunstler. Where are his enemies and detractors, some say? While that is a valid point for a longer film, the Kunstler sisters make yet another impressive decision when they show us Alan Dershowitz (a friend and colleague of their father) recoiling at some of the people Kunstler defended in his later life. It is far more telling that the man who defended Claus Von Bulow says he is uncomfortable with the professional line Kunstler crossed than it is to show prosecutors licking their wounds. In the final analysis, this movie is not so concerned with whether or not you like William Kunstler as it is with asking who among us would retain the courage of our convictions against the challenges that Kunstler met again and again.

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WHEN HARRY MET SALLY (1989)

Posted in THE LUNCH MOVIE CHRONICLES: The original e-mail announcements that were sent through our office the evening before we rolled a Lunch Movie on November 13th, 2009 by Jim Delaney


From June 17, 2008

Directed by Rob Reiner, written by Nora Ephron, starring Meg Ryan, Billy Crystal, Carrie Fisher and Bruno Kirby, and photographed by — who knew? — Barry Sonnenfeld.

Harry Burns (Crystal) and Sally Albright (Ryan) share an awkward road trip from the University of Chicago to New York City.  Virtual strangers at the beginning of the trip, they become less-than-fond acquaintances by the time they arrive.  A series of coincidences or fate continues to re-introduce them to each other over the next 10 years.  As their reluctant friendship grows, they face the age old question of whether or not a man and woman can be friends without sex getting in the way.

It’ll finish Tuesday,
Love, Jim

AFTER THOUGHT from November 13, 2009
I loved this movie when I first saw it in college, until my classmate Preston pointed out that it’s like Woody Allen’s Greatest Hits, without Woody. Not long after Preston made me aware of this, Premiere magazine backed him up with a table/flowchart sorta comparison. They cited roughly a dozen scenes in WHEN HARRY MET SALLLY in one column, and in adjacent columns they cited a Woody Allen title and a particular scene from that movie, making the case that Reiner-n-Ephron-n-Co. had come up wit a derivative movie.

Y’know what? I don’t care anymore. I don’t care, partly because in this day and age we have an emerging DJ-ethos to filmmaking. Quentin Tarantino is not unique in making a career of mashing up elements different movies that he loves, but he is unique and that he acknowledges it. But I also don’t care, because movies have always been this way. When I was enraptured by an amazing new movie called STAR WARS, my parents and everyone else their age were amused, but no where near as impressed as I was — they felt they had seen it already when it was called FLASH GORDON. Not only that, George Lucas himself admits on Criterion’s DVD of THE HIDDEN FORTRESS that he lifted his basic plot line and several character relationships directly from Kurosawa’s 1958 samurai tale.

SO … lifting scenes and inspiration is nothing new. I think a more important concern is: “How well do they do it?” Tarantino? Pretty damn well. Lucas? Even better. And 20 years after WHEN HARRY MET SALLY was knocked down several pegs for me, I am prepared to hoist it back up. It is a great big hug of a movie with a few classic moments all of its own. I’m not just referring to the Katz’s Deli-gasm either. I am hard pressed to think of any romantic comedy, by Woody or anyone else, with as show-stopping a speech as Harry’s New Years Eve plea to Sally. Go ahead — try to top that moment! You can’t!!

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